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Film / Godzilla: King of the Monsters! (1956)

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You may be looking for the original 1954 Japanese version, Godzilla, or the third film in the MonsterVerse series, Godzilla: King of the Monsters.
You have your fear, which might become reality, and you have Godzilla, which is reality.
"Godzilla has turned the heart of Tokyo into a sea of fire."
Steve Martin, as he watches Godzilla destroy Tokyo.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters! (Kaiju-Oh Gojira in Japan) is the 1956 Americanized version of the original Godzilla (1954). New footage featuring Raymond Burr was shot by Terry Morse, and dubbing was done only for scenes where the Japanese characters appear without Burr's character. While the film downplayed the symbolism of the original, it still retains some of Dr. Yamane's lines about the Hydrogen Bomb being responsible for Godzilla's existence. Despite the fact that it runs at twenty minutes shorter than its Japanese counterpart, Godzilla: King of the Monsters is typically considered one of the more tastefully done Americanizations of a Godzilla film, especially in regards to the fact that this was the first one. If it weren't for this film, then Godzilla would never have become popular in the west, and the many pages dedicated to the franchise on this wiki probably wouldn't exist.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters itself is roughly the same story as Gojira, but told from the perspective of American reporter Steve Martin (no, not that one, this one is played by Raymond Burr). Because of this, a full plot description is unnecessary. However, there are some key differences. In the Japanese version, the story opens and plays out much like a film Noir, slowly building up to the destruction of Tokyo, while the American version opens with the aftermath of Godzilla's attack, and the rest of the movie is told as a flashback, except for the scenes which take place after the attack, as those scenes are left relatively intact with the only major changes being that the dialogue was dubbed into English, and Steve Martin interacts with one or two characters.

Most of the sequences cut from the film involve the Japanese version's reporter character, some civilian evacuation scenes before and during Godzilla's first attack, and a portion of the conference held at the Diet after Godzilla's attack on Otojima Island. While Dr. Yamane's statement about Strontium 90 being found in the monster's footprints is left intact, he does not say that Godzilla is the illegitimate child of the H-Bomb as he did in the original, instead saying that Godzilla is an ancient beast that was resurrected due to H-Bomb testing. While this does remove much of the allegorical symbolism found in the original, it still managed to maintain Godzilla's connection to the bomb without being off-putting to American audiences at the time, which was arguably necessary for the film to become so successful in the west.

Interestingly enough, Godzilla: King of the Monsters was so successful that it would later be released in Japan as Kaiju-Oh Gojira or Monster King Godzilla. Raymond Burr's character, Steve Martin, would become an influence on reporter characters in later movies, and the success of this film paved the way for future releases of Godzilla movies in not only the United States, but around the world. Burr would later reprise the role as Steve Martin in the American recut of The Return of Godzilla from 1985.

In 1977, Godzilla: King of the Monsters! was recut, colorized, and released in Italy by up-and-coming filmmaker Luigi Cozzi to cash in on the release of King Kong. Often known as "Cozzilla" and "Psychedelic Godzilla" by fans. For that movie's article, see here.

This cut can be viewed on YouTube for free.

This film contains examples of the following:

  • Adaptation Dye-Job: The American version's poster depicted him green. The actual suit is brown but is colored charcoal-gray in other media and merchandise.
  • Adaptational Villainy: This version downplays Godzilla's sympathetic traits while treating him as a menace that must be stopped. The ending is more apparent, since after Serizawa's Heroic Sacrifice, Yamane gives a eulogy for Serizawa and Godzilla. But this version, Steve Martin gives one to his fallen friend.
  • Apocalyptic Log: Subverted. Steve Martin keeps recording his observations of Godzilla's attack on Tokyo until the monster is about to destroy the building that he [Steve] is in. "This is it, George. Steve Martin, signing off!" It's subverted because Steve survives to provide the Framing Device.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: Serizawa asks one, when Emiko and Ogata confront him about the use of the Oxygen Destroyer.
    Dr. Serizawa: And what will become of us if a weapon such as I now have, falls into the wrong hands?
  • Armor-Piercing Response: Serizawa's Armor Piercing Question is soon followed by one of the most famous lines in the entire Godzilla franchise:
    Ogata: Then you have a responsibility no man has ever faced. You have your fear, which might become reality, and you have Godzilla, which is reality.
  • Attack of the 50-Foot Whatever: While Godzilla is 50 meters in the Japanese version, this version overshot his height to 400 feet (121.92 meters) for whatever reason. Probably to make Godzilla sound even more intimidating.
  • Breath Weapon: Godzilla's atomic ray. Although it's more of a spray in this film, it is without a doubt the defining example of this trope.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Unlike the Japanese version, the contrived coincidences are really blatant. Steve Martin somehow conveniently knew where to be at all times.
  • Dub Induced Plothole: In the Japanese version, Masaji survives his encounter with Godzilla and washes ashore alive on Odo Island. In this version, he apparently washes ashore dead. Until you see him talking with Hagiwara and later at his house when Godzilla comes ashore. At face value, Steve Martin's narration seems to imply that his second appearance is in fact a whole other person.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: Being the first film to be dubbed and Americanized, the film has its own share of weirdness. Such as:
    • In the beginning of the film, Emiko is seen talking to Steve Martin (Not THAT ONE, mind you), she's not looking at the guy. This gets corrected later, but if only they corrected the beginning scene.
    • In the Odo Island ceremony sequence, the village elder explaining about Godzilla and how they must appease him, the elder says Godzilla's name in the most (unintentional) creepy disembodied way possible.
    • In the meeting with Dr. Yamane and the officials, Dr. Yamane says "Gojira", which is Godzilla's Japanese name. This occurs after Godzilla scare the patrons on the partyboat in the Japanese version. In this version, it was shown as an early scene. The Classic Media commentary lampshaded this weirdness.
    • In the Odo island sequence, Tomo says the villagers are running up the hills so it would be safe. We see a closer shot seeing they're holding weapons in their hands. In the Japanese version, the villagers arm themselves to fight off the creature.
    • While the film was dubbed for its American release, only a handful of dialogue was actually dubbed over a few of the Japanese actors. For the most part itís reporter Steve Martin who narrates over the Japanese dialogue. Later Americanized edits would dub over almost all the dialogue completely. Itís also one of few Godzilla movies to integrate scenes shot in America to be inserted in the Japanese footage, whereas later entries had American actors star in the movies.
  • Fake Shemp: If an any actor appeared in the same frame as Raymond Burr, they were NOT in the Japanese version. While Steve Martin does appear in the same frame as Emiko, Dr. Yamane, and Ogata, Raymond Burr is not talking with Momoko Kochi, Takashi Shimura, or Akira Takarada respectively although they're the only ones credited in their respective roles. The telltale sign of a Fake Shemp is evident in all three cases: only the back of their heads are seen. To the American production's credit, from behind the Fake Shemps looks a lot like the originals and their only being seen from behind is disguised as normal cutting for a conversation, ie. they're seen from behind because it's Steve's portion of the conversation.
    • Dr. Serizawa is a special case: he's never seen in the same frame as Steve (ironic since it's Serizawa that's Steve's old friend). The two do share a phone conversation, but that still wouldn't call for a Fake Shemp... except there is no footage of Serizawa talking on the phone in the Japanese version. The Fake Shemp for Serizawa is shot from the side, so a little of his face shown but he's mostly hidden by lab equipment and an eye patch (with that set-up, it does look like it's Akihiko Hirata on the phone, but if Terry Morse had him, it's doubtful he'd hide Akihiko like that).
  • Frankenslation: It takes the original Godzilla and edits in some new footage following Steve Martin.
  • Giant Equals Invincible: Godzilla. The big guy pretty much set the stage for this trope.
  • Heroic BSoD: Serizawa has one after realizing the full weight that rests on his shoulders, the context of which is provided in the quote above. Steve Martin also appears to have a more subtle one while watching Godzilla destroy Tokyo. "Nothing can save the city now," indeed.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Dr. Daisuke Serizawa. Knowing that if he survives, then someone could capture him and force him to build another Oxygen Destroyer, he chooses to cut his life line and air hose, taking his secrets to the grave.
  • In Medias Res: The film opens with the grisly aftermath of Godzilla's second attack on Tokyo, and the rest of the film is told as a flashback.
  • Intrepid Reporter: Steve Martin.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: In this version at least, Serizawa tells Ogata and Emiko to "Be happy together," after his sacrifice.
  • Lead You Can Relate To: Essentially the entire purpose of Steve Martin's presence.
  • Love Triangle: Serizawa, Emiko, and Ogata, although unlike the Japanese version, this version doesn't make it clear if Serizawa knows about Emiko being with Ogata, but since this is told from Steve's perspective, it's only because he doesn't know if Serizawa is aware of this or not. Steve even points out the love triangle to the audience, but he also notes that the triangle will play an important role in the events to come.
  • Nigh-Invulnerable: Godzilla, of course.
  • No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup: Played with. Serizawa clearly has hundreds of research documents and notes for creating the Oxygen Destroyer, but he destroys all of it to prevent the device from ever being used again in the wake of his death and its eventual discovery.
  • Nuclear Weapons Taboo: It is frequently asserted that the connection between Godzilla and the Hydrogen Bomb, while still present, is downplayed significantly to avoid alienating American audiences at the time. However, as David Kalat analyzes in the commentary to the 2011 Criterion Collection Blu-Ray release of the film, this is likely not actually the case. As he points out, none of the subtext of Godzilla-is-the-bomb-incarnate or connecting the monster's origin to H-bomb testing, specifically American testing, is left out. Only the explicit references to the atomic bombings and irradiated tuna are cut, and these are in scenes that feature no main or even secondary characters. Since the American release needed to have a shorter runtime than the Japanese original to fit a double feature, these scenes, which were not ultimately integral to the plot, were cut. Terry Morse and the American crew have always denied a political motivation in their edits, an argument that has some credence when one considers Morse's 1951 film Unknown World was even more explicitly anti-nuclear than the original Godzilla.
    • What was a politically-motivated change is the subtle but key distinction in Serizawa's fears regarding the Oxygen Destroyer. In Godzilla: King of the Monsters!, Serizawa is afraid that the weapon will fall into the "wrong hands," whereas in the Japanese original, Serizawa fears the Oxygen Destroyer being used by anyone period, i.e., there is no "right hands." This reveals the fundamental difference in American and Japanese attitudes toward nuclear weapons and the arms race.
  • One Head Taller: Raymond Burr was a huge guy. It's even been speculated his appearance in this film played a big part in forming the stereotype that Japanese people are short.
  • Odd Friendship: In this film, Steve Martin is friends with Daisuke Serizawa, who in the Japanese version isn't keen to having an interview with reporters (with good reason). While the film established that the two are friends, they only had one conversation with each other (by phone), and that's it. He never even once tries to speak to him when the final act starts.
  • Oh, Crap!: Steve Martin when he realizes that Godzilla is only a few buildings away from him, and is getting closer, before trying to escape. "This is it, George. Steve Martin, signing off!" However, Steve does not make it out of the building in time, although he gets better.
  • Pinball Protagonist: Steve Martin. Understandable, of course; given the way Raymond Burr had to be inserted wholesale into the existing footage, they were extremely limited with the ways he could interact with the other characters, and so he spends most of his time commenting from the sidelines.
  • Scifi Writers Have No Sense Of Scale: A rather noticeable example here; during Godzilla's rampage through Tokyo, Steve Martin watches from a news building, reporting what he sees using a tape recorder, and the film shows this as if he's looking down at the destruction. Considering Godzilla is 400 feet (40 stories) in this version, and Steve is looking down, we're led to assume that he's in a rather tall building. Then, once Godzilla arrives at said building - leading to Steve's Oh, Crap! moment - Steve looks up. Either the building shrunk or Godzilla got even bigger.
  • This Is Gonna Suck: Steve Martin has this reaction when he sees Godzilla tear through the JSDF followed by the Deadline News moment of the reporters on the radio tower:
    Steve Martin: Nothing can save Tokyo now.
  • Too Long; Didn't Dub: Subverted. To add realism to the film, the dubbers decided to leave half of the Japanese dialogue, only dubbing scenes into which Steve Martin or his narration could not be inserted. But doing this causes a plot confusion like in the meeting with Dr. Yamane and the government officials.
    • The actual dubbing wasn't done conventionally, either. The actors (James Hong and Sammee Tong are the only identified performers) simply read their lines at varying speeds in a small office during a recording session that reportedly lasted only five hours, so all of the line-by-line synchronization had to be done in post-production.
  • Unlucky Childhood Friend: If you believe the whole, "they were engaged when they were children" line from Steve Martin, then Serizawa is, in fact, the unlucky one.

"The menace was was a great man. But the whole world could wake up and live again!"